Dump the Lesser Evil?

Part 1

Have you ever had an event trigger an understanding of something you thought you already knew, but apparently did not grasp fully? That’s the way I felt on January 20th, the morning after Scott Brown’s victory in the Massachusetts special senatorial election on January 19th. Then I had my face rubbed in it by the Supreme Court’s decision giving corporations even greater power over what is left of our feeble democratic process.

I’ve been wrestling with the “lesser of two evils dilemma” since the first time I voted in 1968. In that election I rejected Nixon and Humphrey and chose Eldridge Cleaver. Since then, in national, state and local elections, I’ve vacillated between voting for the Democratic candidate or a left-wing alternative. I’ve been torn between two positions that appeared equally valid.

On one hand, in several important ways it has mattered whether Democrats or Republicans have been in control. For instance, I believe that Bush caused much more pain and suffering than Clinton did. A Democrat in office also meant a slightly better Supreme Court, a little less racism, a few more civil liberties, a little more butter for the downtrodden and a few less guns for the military. There have even been a few times when I felt the Democrat really was enough better to earn my vote.

But much more frequently I only voted for the Democrat because the Republican was so awful. The system never changed. In fact, I wonder if I’ve reinforced the status quo by participating in the electoral process. Perhaps Eugene Debs, who ran for President from his jail cell and garnered almost 1,000,000 votes on the Socialist Party ticket in 1920, summarized the second position best. He said: “It is better to vote for what you want and not get it, than to vote for what you don’t want and get it.” I’ve been consistently unhappy for almost all of my 40-plus years of voting with the results of pulling the lever for the lesser evil. It strikes me that the only time I’ve not been dissatisfied with this course of action is when I couldn’t be disappointed in the lesser evil’s post-election performance because the candidate I voted for lost.

I knew all of this when I voted for Obama, and when I held my nose and voted for the lackluster Martha Coakley on January 19th. So what was left for me to realize on the morning of the 20th?

(Continue to Part 2: www.rfc.org/node/445)

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I share your thoughts and frustrated feelings about having to vote not really "for" someone but to avoid a much worse situation. What keeps me from despair is to think about the intention of my act and also the various actors I was about to promote or reject. When I voted "for" Clinton I was acutely conscious of the need to counter the Regan/Bush years with a position which was more inclusive, less elitist. I didn't expect Clinton to be enlightened enough to really change the country around, just as I didn't have such fantasies about Obama. My intention was to put someone in office who could stop, or at least lessen the injustice and suffering of most citizens, which, I'd like to think, was/is also the intention of most politicians. That they get carried away by creature comforts and power is a problem with human nature which will require conscious struggle to overcome. As for the intentions of the people of Massachusetts and the Supreme Court, I believe they can be seen as aspiring towards the notion of being winners, beautiful and powerful and not connected to losers, or anyone not beautiful and powerful. Such actions will probably lead to enormous disappointment and a backlash when folks wake up to the reality of their comfort vote. Of course, we could be wrong about Scott Brown and that would be terrific! Maybe he's got a Bodhisattva heart and will throw himself into the work with true dedication and concern for all the citizens of Massachusetts. Maybe by advancing the corporatist agenda the Supremes are providing the mechanism which will show that greedy and self-serving behaviors are really horrible for the collective experiment of democracy in America.

What you wrote was very interesting. I hope you'll read the continuation of what I wrote last week which I intend to post tomorrow. I expect we'll disagree, but I also expect that your comments will be valuable.

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